The dynamic relationship between love and obedience
By Kyle Patterson
It’s tempting to make our children listen and obey by doing one of two things. Instead of obeying out of love alone, we incentivize our children to listen by offering rewards, or on the other end of the spectrum by threatening punishment. The problem with both of these methods is that although we get the right outward action, we do them a disfavor by teaching them motivations based on fear or selfish gain. I want to suggest that this also gives us into our own relationship with God and how we relate to him.
Of course we want our children to listen to us and do what we tell them. But just as important as obedience, we want their hearts to be full of love and grace as they do it. While we can’t change their hearts, we can be sure to teach them that obedience should come from the motivation of love, not fear, or selfish gain. We want our children to listen and dealing with the motivations of why they obey is easier to deal with later. But the truth of the matter is that the Bible teaches that motivation is just as important as outward obedience. Why we do something is as important as what we do. See, it’s easy to hide the reasons we have for doing something from people. But to truly receive all Christ has for us and did for us, we would be remiss to overlook the change of heart that the gospel should bring to us. Jesus taught that the matters of the heart were as important as the external observance of the law.
Jesus took this one step further when he taught us that if we loved him we would obey his commandments. So our motivation in obeying Jesus is out of love. He wants our motivation to be love, even when it comes to keeping his commandments. This was a totally radical concept that Jesus was introducing in the New Testament. It turned the former way of doing things on its head. In the Old Testament, the motivation for obedience was fear or reward. It was all about a system of reward or punishment. But the New Testament through the teachings of Christ, introduces a totally new and radical paradigm. Rather than motivating through external circumstances, rewards, or punishments, Jesus goes much deeper. He says the motivation shouldn’t be external at all, it should be in the heart, out of love. That’s why we obey him and that’s enough. In the Old Testament, obedience was all about doing the right thing to get the right result. Jesus introduces us to obedience that doesn’t always bring the right result. He warns us that some people will dislike us, hate us, exclude us because we obey Jesus. But because we are no longer under a system of external regulations, but internal transformation by the Spirit, when we obey him and things don’t go right, we receive his love in our hearts by the Spirit. So instead of looking for external reward for obedience, we look for internal communion with God in the midst of it. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, "If you love me, obey my commandments." Obedience is no longer about earning God’s love or favor. Jesus’ perfect life and atoning death did that. But Jesus shows us there is a much higher motivation for obeying God. It’s love alone. It’s a natural response when we see the truth that God give his best for us, and loved us so deeply that he took our place on the cross.
So check your heart, is your motivation love alone, or what you get or don’t get from God? Love is the most excellent way.